Recently, Pamela Paul, the new children's book editor at the New York Times Book Review chatted with me about her background, books, and some of her plans. In the course of our communications, Pamela asked me how I found the time to blog as a full-time teacher and I responded that I wondered the same about her. The author of three well-received books, and articles for a variety of publications including the Economist, Time Magazine as well as the New York Times, Pamela is also the mother of three very young children. Count me as impressed.
"Going back to my origins" was Pamela's answer when I asked her what made her want to take on this new role. These include a stint at an international school in Thailand where Pamela taught kindergarten, high school, and ran the library and another at Scholastic involving parent book clubs. When she moved into journalism, Pamela's first focus was on the arts. And so she has indeed, "circled around this whole world" coming back to children and their books.
Going back further, Pamela spoke to me of the pleasure she took as a child visiting the library that was close to her home. Frances Hodgson Burnett, Beverly Cleary, and Judy Blume were among the many authors of fiction and nonfiction that she read and loved making her understandably delighted to be able to interview the latter two for an essay in the latest book review. Her children are a "built-in focus group," especially her oldest who will examine the books she brings home and occasionally suggest that Pamela "bring this one back to the office."
Pamela sees the audience for the Times' children's book reviews as not only parents, teachers, librarians, booksellers, and others looking for great books for the children in their lives, but adults looking for their own reading material as well. As she pointed out last year in her essay, "The Kids Books Are All Right", more and more adults are enjoying and appreciating books written for young people. Pamela gave Ruta Sepetys' novel about life in a Siberian prison camp, Between Shades of Gray, as an example of a book that would be equally appreciated by teens and adults.
One of Pamela's first new acts was to begin a weekly online picture book review as she feels strongly about their importance. In order to make it easier for readers to find books on a particular topic and to further highlight books for younger and middle grade readers, Pamela is reframing the monthly Bookshelf (consisting of several shorter reviews) as a thematic feature; the latest is on the environment. She is also adding a new "Back to School" special section in August and planning to expand the children's books part of the Times' Notable Books of the Year from 8 to 25.
Pamela's enthusiasm, varied background, and commitment has me optimistic that under her watch children's books will continue to be a valued and respected part of the New York Times Book Review.
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